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Eleven individuals or organizations have sent notice to the state that they plan to apply to establish as many as 13 open-enrollment charter schools in the 2021-22 school year.

The letters of intent to apply for state charters -- sent this week to the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education -- describe plans for six new charter schools in Pulaski County as well as three schools in not-always-specified Northwest Arkansas cities, plus one each in Hot Springs, Hope, Osceola and Weiner, which is in the Harrisburg School District.

Even if all the school planners follow through with detailed applications by a June 1 deadline, no more than eight of the 13 proposals can actually be approved by the state Board of Education for 2021-22 without exceeding the current cap of 34 open-enrollment charters.

The state currently has 25 charter schools or charter systems and with one more recently approved charter school to open in the 2020-21 school year.

Open-enrollment charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are operated by not-for-profit organizations other than traditional public school districts. The school planners can seek and obtain waivers from some state laws and rules that apply to traditional districts but then are supposed to be held to a stricter level of accountability for student learning.

Scott Smith, the executive director of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a non-profit organization that recruits and/or works to support charter management organizations in the state, said Thursday that he was particularly intrigued by two of the proposed schools, including the Inspire Academy being proposed for Hope that would serve students in the region who have experienced trauma.

"What's interesting about that school is that one of the state's education cooperatives is applying for an open-enrollment charter," Smith said. That's going to be an interesting model going forward."

The Southwest Arkansas Educational Cooperative is a state-funded organization with a board of directors made up of superintendents from traditional school districts in the region.

"We're very excited about the partnership between the coop and the traditional school districts and an open enrollment charter school. That's very encouraging."

Smith also highlighted proposals for two Junior ROTC military/emergency first-responder schools -- one for Little Rock and one for the northwest part of the state.

"It's a very innovative concept," he said. "It's very interesting given the circumstances and the times that we are in -- the idea that we need to promote job growth for people who are civic minded and want to work in these areas. They have seen some success in other parts of the country," he said of the planners.

Proposals for six new charter schools in Pulaski County -- four in Little Rock -- come at a time when the Little Rock School District is moving out of five years of state control and will be governed -- with state-imposed limits -- by a nine-member school board to be elected in November.

The proposed schools and the contact persons are:

Annoor Academy of Bentonville to serve as many as 150 students in kindergarten through seventh grade with a blended learning model that incorporates individualized instruction and an emphasis on academic excellence and high moral values. Annoor Academy has operated for four years as a private preschool and elementary school. Contact for the plan is Amreen Musani of Bentonville.

• The Arkansas Military Academy to be placed in Northwest Arkansas and the Little Rock Military Academy to be in the Little Rock area. Each academy would provide as many as 600 students in grades nine through 12 with a college preparatory program combined with the curriculum of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and electives centered on emergency first-responder preparation.

The National Education Support Network, in affiliation with American Quality Schools Corp., are the sponsors of the proposed schools. Rick Mills is the chief executive officer of the National Education Support Network based in Chicago.

Bridge2Success to be in southwest Little Rock within the boundaries of the Little Rock School District for as many as 300 students in prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds through third grade. The sponsor organization is the Ministry of Intercession, doing business as the Bridge2Success Youth Center.

The Youth Center has operated in southwest Little Rock for nine years and proposed a school plan that would focus on "academically strengthening students from under-served communities and preparing them to succeed in the 21st Century. That will be done with a program offering an exciting curriculum, adhering to a discipline code, and building self determination through a holistic approach," the letter of intent says. Ronald Wilkerson is the contact for the proposed school.

Arkansas AgSTEM Academy to be in Weiner in the Harrisburg, School District. The proposed school would initially serve grades seven through 12, with the addition of the elementary grades after five years of operation. The targeted enrollment is 400.

If approved, the school will use individualized academic support, experiential learning, job shadowing and internship experiences in the agricultural industry to give students critical thinking and problem-solving skills, a love of learning and appreciation of hard work. Science, technology, engineering and math -- STEM subjects -- will be emphasized using technology in agriculture. The ASSET Foundation is the sponsoring 501c3 organization and Greta Greene is the contact.

Diamond Cut Performing Arts Academy Public Charter School to serve between 300 to 1,500 students in seventh through 12th grades at 600 Colonel Glenn Plaza Loop in the Little Rock School District. The purpose of the proposed school is to ensure appreciation and continuity of the performing arts through creation and performance. Anthony D. Bland of Little Rock is the founder of the sponsoring foundation that bears his name.

Dream Arts Academy to be in North Little Rock to serve as many as 340 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grades. The proposed school would feature arts-based learning as as a way to foster academic achievement. Music, computer technology, theater dance and art would be used to promote learning in core academic courses.

The sponsoring organization is Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. Earl Graham is the pastor and contact for the proposed school. The former Lynch Drive Elementary in North Little Rock, 5800 Alpha Drive, is the proposed site for the school.

Inspire Academy Charter School to be within the boundaries of the Hope School District and sponsored by the Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative for kindergarten through 12th graders who have experienced traumatic events and adverse childhood experiences and, as a result, can be vulnerable to academic failure and behavioral problems. The school would feature a trauma-informed teaching staff to work with 12 students per grade and their families. Monica Morris is the contact for the education service cooperative that provides nine areas school district with teacher training programs, special education and other services.

Premier High School of Hot Springs and Premier High School of Springdale, which are proposed by Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas. The organization operates more than 70 charter schools of varying models mostly in Texas but also four schools in Arkansas, including two Premier dropout-recovery campuses in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Each of the proposed Premier campuses in Hot Springs and Springdale would serve up to 300 students in grades nine through 12, focusing on credit recovery, drop-out prevention and accelerated instruction with the end goal being high school graduation. Steven Gast, superintendent of Responsive Education in Arkansas, is the contact for the proposed schools.

The School of Academic Performance and Career Academies to be in Osceola would start by serving up to 72 pupils in first through third grades and possibly add grades in subsequent years, Jennifer Lewis, the school's creator said. Lewis is a secondary school career technical education teacher in the Osceola School District who operates a tutoring program for the city's youngest pupils.

The proposed charter school would feature personalized learning, blended teaching strategies, class sizes of no more than 12 children, an extended school day with individualized after school tutoring and a physical fitness program to combat obesity. The school will offer an after-school Career Pathways Program for secondary students with training academies in the steel industry, music and art appreciation, and public service to include training for aspiring teachers, nurses and police officers.

Westwind School of Performance Arts to serve up to 200 students in grades six through 12 at 7318 Windsong Drive in North Little Rock. The site includes access to an auditorium, a theater, commercial kitchen, classrooms and recreational space in what has been the Cross Life Church.

The proposed school would provide an integrated program of academics and the arts. The sponsoring organization is the Timmons Arts Foundation that provides arts enrichment to 500 children from 22 schools in central Arkansas.Theresa Timmons, executive director of the foundation, is the contact for the proposal.

William and Mary Elementary School for up to 250 children in prekindergarten through sixth graders in downtown Little Rock.

"The mission of William and Mary Elementary School will be to serve students with a degree of special needs, such as autism or ADHD, or others that need extra counseling to help manage their way through their academic career," the letter of intent from school planner Scott Loye states.

Loye said he hopes "to provide a more innovative, and uplifting learning environment for these children to reach a higher level of academic success."

Metro on 04/03/2020

Print Headline: State notified of plans for 13 charter schools

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